Saturday, August 30, 2008

I'm Not Italian, But I'm Still a Decent Human Being!


Ok, I will admit that since becoming a part of CL I have come to have a dangerous case of "Italian envy." I have to remind myself that "holy" and "Italian" are not necessarily synonymous. Have pity on me, after all -- with the exception of some French Huguenots in the 16th and 17th centuries, I have a solid Nordic/Germanic pedigree, with a heavy splash of Celts, going back well into medieval times.

So, this is to, um, celebrate my friends the Italians. If anyone comes across something equally praiseworthy of Germans or Danes, please share!

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Italian kids vs: American kids

American kids: Move out when they're 18 with the full support of their parents.
Italian kids: Move out when they're 28, having saved enough money for a house, and are two weeks away from getting married....unless there's room in the basement for the newlyweds.

American kids: When their Mom visits them, she brings a Bundt cake, and you sip coffee and chat.
Italian kids: When their Mom visits them, she brings 3 days worth of food, begins to tidy up, dust, do the laundry, and rearrange the furniture.

American kids: Their dads always call before they come over to visit them, and it's usually only on special occasions.
Italian kids: Are not at all fazed when their dads show up, unannounced, on a Saturday morning at 8:00, and starts pruning the fruit trees. If there are no fruit trees, he'll plant some.

American kids: Always pay retail, and look in the Yellow Pages when they need to have something done.
Italian kids: Call their dad or uncle, and ask for another dad's or uncle's phone number to get it deal. Know what I mean??

American kids: Will come over for cake and coffee, and get only cake and coffee. No more.
Italian kids: Will come over for cake and coffee, and get antipasto, wine, a pasta dish, a choice of two meats, salad, bread, a cannoli, fruit, espresso, and a few after dinner drinks.

American kids: Will greet you with 'Hello' or 'Hi'.
Italian kids: Will give you a big hug, a kiss on your cheek, and a pat on your back.

American kids: Call your parents Mr . and Mrs.
Italian kids: Call your parents Mom and Dad.

American kids: Have never seen you cry.
Italian kids: Cry with you.

American kids: Borrow your stuff for a few days and then return it.
Italian kids: Keep your stuff so long, they forget it's yours.

American kids: Will eat at your dinner table and leave.
Italian kids: Will spend hours there, talking, laughing, and just being

American kids: Know few things about you.
Italian kids: Could write a book with direct quotes from you.

American kids: Eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on soft mushy white bread.
Italian kids: Eat Genoa Salami and Provolone sandwiches on crusty Italian bread.

American kids: Will leave you behind if that's what the crowd is doing.
Italian kids: Will kick the whole crowds' ass that left you behind.

American kids: Are for a while.
Italian kids: Are for life.

American kids: Enjoy Rod Stewart, and Steve Tyrell.
Italian kids: Worship Tony Bennett, and Sinatra.

American kids: Think that being Italian is cool.
Italian kids: Know that being Italian is cool.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

War and Conscience

For those in need of more things to ponder in this election year, Intentional Disciples has a great post with a link to The Journal of Catholic Legal Studies, replete with articles helpful toward the formation of conscience. I started with the article by Joseph L. Falvey, Jr., entitled Reflections on Just Wars and Just Warriors.

It seems that every time I turn around these days, I come across Catholics of one of two minds: "It's obvious, it's clear, it's a given: the war in Iraq is justified and morally right." Or "It's obvious, it's clear, it's a given: the war in Iraq is an abominable crime against God." I sometimes feel like a ping pong ball, to be honest, as I listen to both views. (The one thing I'd love to shout to both groups is "Do you know some believers think very differently on this?")

Among the many things this article clarifies, it points out that three different statements were made by three different Bishops in the United States: a military Bishop, a Byzantine Bishop, and the head of the USCCB. The first said "you, Catholic military, may fight in this war in good conscience." The second said "this was is completely unjustified and no one may partake in it or support it legitimately." The third said "people may be of different minds about this war, and indeed they are." It makes it clear that people under the Byzantine Bishop are indeed barred from fighting in or supporting the war! But it also makes the point that even Bishops may look at all of the same facts and come to very different conclusions.

But, do we look at the facts, or are we swayed by strong feelings of how we would like the world to be, if we were the ones deciding whether to go to war?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Inner Healing

I have been doing a lot of thinking recently about inner healing. In my early 20s I went through a deep season of both experiencing and studying inner healing (for I suppose there is no way for me to experience something but to also simultaneously study it). But the books have either landed with friends or have been shelf decorations for many years now.

I believe it is time for a little revisit, for whatever purposes my sweet Lord may now have. I can only begin by lining up for myself some of the influences activating this new awareness.

Of course first there's my own knotty heart. I've been dealing with this issue of the role of the intellect in my identity or self-concept, and my personal history there. I guess lots of my recent blog posts have touched on that.

My friend Patty, the author of the blog Abba's Little Girl, has been writing an extended series on her own healing from incest, with the intent to help those who have been likewise abused, as well as those affected by clerical sexual abuse. As a convert to the Catholic faith, she is now grappling with how her experience with the discipleship and healing method that brought her God's healing can be shared in a Catholic context. She feels, as do I, that within the dimension of sacramental life, there is huge potential for the Church to offer something even more powerful and dynamic than what she experienced in a Protestant setting. It seems Jesus taught her things about truth during her healing that even those who discipled her were not open to. What to do with this marvelous gift that doesn't yet seem to "fit" in either tradition?

Willa at In a Spacious Place has a wonderful post called The Faculties of Past, Present and Future. She starts with a discussion of the Suscipe of St. Ignatius of Loyola. This prayer has always been like strong wings for my heart. (Here is the version I know and love best.) She then thinks about past, present and future, relating to healing from childhood troubles, and the value of having a coherent narrative of one's life. She says:
Every time we recall something, we basically recast it in our present moment. The content of the memory may be something past, but the actual "recollection" is something occurring in our present. This is why... a coherent "narrative" of the past -- even a troubled past -- can help us restore our present and affect our futures.
Just this past Lent I wrote one such narrative, but I really wasn't able to articulate what value the process had. Willa then discusses conversion, metanoia, and shame. I'm sure I need to read it over a few more times to really digest it all.

The authors I read most heavily, if not exclusively, in my 20s were John and Paula Sandford. They have been pioneers in Christian inner healing, and as such they've received their share of rejection. They are strongly supportive of Protestant/Catholic unity, and in many ways their understanding of the gospel (though perhaps not of the Church -- just perhaps) is quite Catholic as I recall.

This is from the website of the ministry they founded:

These scriptural and universal laws...

• Honor your father and mother... that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you (Deuteronomy 5:16)

• Do not judge, lest you be judged (Matthew 7:1-2)

• Whatever a man sows, this he will also reap (Galatians 6:7-8)

• For in that you judge another, you condemn yourself (Romans 2:1)

...are as sure as the law of gravity, and we are all subject to them whether or not we believe them. When we break these laws, we set in motion forces that (without God's intervention) must be reaped by simple, impersonal law-law that is absolute and eternal. In our sinful responses to wounding, we begin early on to develop patterns of behavior that cause us to reap in adulthood the very thing we have worked so hard to avoid.

Add to these laws the principle of increase: what we sow will come back to us as multiplied (both good and evil). For they sow the wind, and they reap the whirlwind Hosea 8:7a (NAS). The laws of God are both natural and spiritual: For example, in physics, "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction"; in the spiritual...whatever a man sows, this he will also reap Galatians 6:7b (NAS).

So why do we need to be healed? Although Christ has fully accomplished our death on the cross, our carnal nature refuses to stay dead-it springs back to life: See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled... Hebrews 12:15 (NAS).

Many Christians have rightly celebrated salvation as a free gift but have not understood that they are to grow up in it. They have celebrated with Paul that by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are [being] sanctified (Hebrews 10:14) without understanding sanctification as a process and without acknowledging with Paul, Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12).

As Christians, we tend to press on in terms of managing behavior rather than renewing our mind and receiving a new heart, which naturally changes behavior. Many have tried to forget "what lies behind" (Philippians 3:13) by ignoring the past rather than by letting the Holy Spirit search the innermost parts of the heart in order to allow Jesus to deal specifically with deeply ingrained attitudes. They have attempted to put aside the old self with its practices of anger, wrath, malice and slander, as if these were present, external expressions only, whereas Jesus called the Pharisees (and us) to "clean the INSIDE of the cup" (Matthew 23:36).
So, this is what I have in front of me today. Throughout my life I have felt Scripture get that amplified, bullhorn effect when I come across various passages regarding healing, restoration, speaking, and "being a prophet". Inner healing is a term for what I have experienced as being snatched from the brink of despair, having prison doors unlocked, having the tomb opened, my name called, and bandages untied. With all my heart, this is the gift I would long to be able to give to someone else, or, really, simply see someone else have whether or not I had any part in it.

This is what I have in front of me today.

Monday, August 25, 2008

What Children Need (Or, The Mystery of why Bumbling Sinners are Necessary to Protect the Innocent)

Yesterday I came across a hilarious (painfully so) look at what we mean in our culture by the term socialization.

Pondering this gave me a real moment of clarity about school, not school, and parenting.

It is parents, specifically in their vocation as ministers of the grace of God for their kids, that are the linchpin for whether kids thrive as kids or not.

A quick bunch of obligatory qualifying statements: Yes, children have free will and can reject the good; no, people who had a lousy experience being parented are not beyond complete redemption and transformation; yes, parents are sometimes absent without fault and therefore other adults can fill this role. No, parents never single-handedly provide everything their children need (though ideally they are at least a conduit). Yes, grace changes everything.

Children are innocent -- that's the whole point behind our needing parents. They are designed to soak up what surrounds them. And you know what? I believe that kids enrolled in school, even from what I feel to be a ridiculously young age, who have parents who are committed to their (child's and their own) destiny in Christ are pretty darn likely to thrive and embrace their destiny and continue on into life, stumbling through all their own mistakes just as we all must. Neither is homeschooling (and therefore missing out on some of the socialized deformations illustrated in the blog post) a guarantee that children will thrive and pursue their destiny! I would far prefer that children have their parents (picture here the fullest possible sense of the word "have") than have them just learn at home. Prefer is actually way too weak of a word. It is crucial that children have their parents, period. It is a sick lie to hide behind a social structure (in this case, homeschooling) in order to broadcast "We are a close family" while not putting the work into being that. It is also an evil to deposit one's offspring into the local school, public or private, and take a K-12 vacation from your child's formation. Probably not too many families fall into either extreme as a lifestyle, but the subtle shades of temptation are real.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Jesus Asked

I have this unfortunate ability to remember homilies I hear. Let me preface the rest of my comments by saying I am glad that I am not the one with the job of unpacking the Word of God day after day from the pulpit. Preaching is a skill, an art, and preferably a passion. I respect the task and the artisans of it.

I would think a fairly big disadvantage to homily creation is that the same gospels keep reappearing, especially if you consider daily Masses. The temptation is there to basically say the same thing about the familiar gospels each time they come up. And that's where my unfortunate ability to remember comes in. It seems that every year since I have gone to Mass on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, I have heard a priest explain that we are not celebrating Jesus' conception, but Mary's. I get a little discouraged when I hear this so often, and I think to myself, "Are we stupid or something? Do so many people just forget this from year to year that we have to keep repeating it? Don't details of things we love stay with us, like the issue of what the heck we are doing here today?"

This weekend's gospel strikes me as another tricky case. Jesus asks the disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" And I hear, for the bazillionth time, that we have to answer that question with our lives, who do I say that Jesus is? It can be so easy to just read or hear the gospel with glazed eyes. Oh yeah. I know this one. Zzzzzz.

God in His mercy spared me from this this evening at Mass. Here's the gospel, by the way:

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
I was struck, not so much by how I am called to answer the question, but the fact that Jesus asked a question in the first place, and how He did it.

I have been grappling with some knots lately, and as knots tend to be, it's too complicated to explain in a few pithy statements right now. But this gospel brought greater ease into them.

I don't really think Jesus asked the first question because He didn't know what people thought of Him. Nor do I think he was so much interested in what the latest polls predicted for his coming reception in Jerusalem. I think he was asking a question that would be easy for his disciples to answer. Jesus was, is, striking, startling, unnerving, exceptional. I don't know that Jesus had really confronted his disciples before this about exactly what they made of Him. So, he could get the conversation started in a way that would be comfortable for them by getting them to think about what someone else thought of Him.

And then He asked a question that I think created an extremely vulnerable moment for all of them. I can feel the moment. Not an inquisitorial question, but more like a Lover asking the Beloved, "do you, will you, love me?" I can picture the disciples (perhaps I'm influenced by Jesus of Nazareth here) going silent and looking at each other, their hearts pounding and growing hot. They knew He was exceptional. They had seen Him do amazing things. Yet, they were human, and their minds probably couldn't wrap around both the truth and the blasphemy-like feelings that plagued them. Peter, blessed Peter, never hindered by mind tangles, blurted it out for all of them: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."

How we need Peters to just say the truth like that! He knew, because he believed; he experienced, and his heart knew a Messiah was coming, and he knew, so he spoke. Doesn't say he consulted with the opinions of others, he doesn't go on to "prove" his statements with supporting arguments. He just says it. And the rest of the disciples probably went "Yeah. Yeah, um.... that's what I was gonna say!"

This was a very delicate conversation Jesus had with his disciples, and he made it as easy for them as He could. And what is more, it was a conversation! Imagine that! God, the Almighty, comes and asks what human beings have to say about Him! Could he not have just said, "Listen men, I have something to tell you. I am the Messiah. I'm God. Yep, you probably thought so, and now I'm confirming it. Now you know for sure." No. He solicits the thoughts, the faith, of these clumsy humans, allows one such clumsy, fishy smelling man to be the first to proclaim the mystery hidden from all ages, and then further ministers to him not by saying "Good job, Peter! Right answer!" but by confirming the source of Peter's knowledge: "Remember this moment Peter. This is an experience of receiving revelation from the Father. By the way, this will come in handy in your future position as prime minister in the kingdom of God!"

In everything, Jesus serves. In every tiny detail of his interactions with others, He is mindful of serving the needs of all. May we all have the grace of untied knots so that service to our brothers may flow freely.

Third Leading Cause of Death in the US

How protected are you from the third leading cause of death in the United States, as revealed by a 2000 article of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)?


You might not believe it, but the third leading cause of death is the American health care system. Read the JAMA summary here, or the article here if you subscribe. There was a 2004 follow up that suggests the health care system may actually be the number one killer annually, in the United States.

So tell me, WHY do some fight for universal, tax-funded access to this system?! Let's fix it, first!!

Irrational Reasons

About a week ago I had this flash of insight which became a mentally-planned blog post, but then I learned Mrs. Juliano died, and I forgot all about the flash.

But I remembered later, and I think it is important for me to remember, so on the blog it goes.

I have struggled with embracing irrational reasons for some choices I've made. Two examples immediately come to mind.

The most recent was the case of a slight physical problem I had after the birth of my daughter. When I was a few months post-partum (like maybe 3 or so) I posted a message on one of my support groups, asking about this. Another mom, whom I had known through this group for several years, had had the same condition and said it would clear up in due time. To be precise, she said, "I promise you, it will get better."

I can be like a big-eyed fawn when it comes to relating to other people. When someone gives me an impassioned promise, I want to adhere to it. Well, another whole year went by, and the problem still didn't go away, until I started chiropractic. If I wouldn't have done that, I would probably still have the same problem!

Several years before this, I was in Japan and (briefly) engaged to a man who not only had no employment but who had actually not spoken to anyone for about six years before we met. He was an artist, and intended to continue painting in an abandoned cabin of his grandfather's, only now I would support him instead of only his parents. (Did I mention he spoke English, though?) In the midst of this situation which had "Run! Run Away!" stamped all over it, I spoke to someone very close to me back home, and was told, "Don't worry. Everything will turn out ok."
I was so starving for a crumb of direction from this person that I clung to this "directive" with all my might, for a time at least.

In both cases I now see I was making a very big error. I replaced rational thinking with an emotion-based choice. And I did this because of a faulty sense that I was developing a relationship with a person through accepting their emotions as "truth". In one case, I was new to the world of biological motherhood, and wanted to trust the experience someone else had. In the other, as I said, I wanted to believe anything I was told, just because I longed so much to be told something.

Realizing this has sort of been like looking down on an old, sloughed off skin.

Praise the Lord for time and growth.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Study Shows AP Helps Children Mature

A recently published research study reveals that strong attachments between parents and babies makes for greater levels of self-control in early childhood. Here's the story.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

On Alfie Kohn's Punished By Rewards

I recently finished Punished By Rewards. I read it over the last three months, and so it has become just as much a meditation on my own experience and perceptions as it has been about taking in the author’s points.

Kohn’s basic argument is that behaviorist principles, used in family, education, and the workplace, undermine the good aims of who use them. For example, if a library program is designed with the aim of getting children to become lovers of reading, and children are rewarded with free pizza when they complete a certain number of books, Kohn points out that kids tend to pick the shortest, easiest books, because the goal for them has become getting the pizza, not enjoying the books. It is not the love of reading that is reinforced, but the idea that reading is an unpleasant chore and children need to be pushed to do it by external motivators. He cites study after research study (many which set out to prove the opposite) showing that offering “positive reinforcements” to produce certain desired behaviors has the long-term effect of lessening the likelihood of the desired behavior. Even in the short term, numerous studies show that children and college students tend to be less interested in meeting a new learning challenge when there is a reward attached, and more interested in activities which attract them simply by the nature of the thing. He demonstrates that rewarding people for “doing good” is psychologically identical to punishing people for “doing bad” (which moderns are more likely to reject as benighted); that rewards insert alienation and resentment in the relationship between the giver and receiver of the reward; that rewards ignore the needs of the human heart (or the reasons why behavior is being exhibited that others deem in need of modification); and that rewards discourage risk-taking and creative growth.

Here is a quick smattering of quotes, pulling out some of the key themes I found meaningful:

If you have been promised a reward, you come to see the task as something that stands between you and it. The easier the job is, the faster you can be done with it and pick up your prize. It's logical, all right, but the practical implications are staggering. Our workplaces and classrooms, saturated in pop behaviorism as they are, have the effect of discouraging people from taking risks, thinking creatively, and challenging themselves. (p. 65)
All of us start out life intensely fascinated by the world around us and inclined to explore it without any extrinsic inducement. It is not part of the human condition to be dependent upon rewards; in fact, there is no reason to think that anyone is born with an extrinsic orientation....
Ryan and his colleges put it this way: "Given particular out conditions and approaches to education, an inner world will eventually emerge which conforms to and matches it." If people's "extrinsic-ness" is really a result of internalizing the orientation of their environments, then it should vary depending on one's experience. This is exactly what we find: teachers who use controlling techniques such as extrinsic motivators tend to produce students who are more extrinsic, while those who emphasize students' autonomy produce students who are more intrinsic.

Most American schools marinate children in behaviorism, so that result, unsurprisingly, is that children's intrinsic motivation drains away. (p. 91)

Praise, at least as commonly practiced, is a way of using and perpetuating children's dependence on us. It gets them to conform to our wishes irrespective of what those wishes are. It sustains a dependence on our evaluations, our decisions about what is good and bad, rather than helping them begin to form their own judgments. It leads them to measure their worth in terms of what will elad us to smile and offer the positive words they crave. Rudolph Dreikurs saw this back in the 1950s: praise, he said, can "lead to a dependency on approval. Overdone, it promotes insecurity as the child becomes frightened at the prospect of not being able to live up to expectations." (p. 104)

"How do I get these kids motivated?" is a question that not only misreads the nature of motivation but also operates within a paradigm of control, the very thing that is death to motivation. "I never use the expression 'motivate a child,' " says Raymond Wlodkowski, who specializes in the topic. "That takes away their choice. All we can do is influence how they motivate themselves."
But influence them we can -- and must. The job of educators is neither to make students motivated nor to sit passively; it is to set up the conditions that make learning possible. (p. 199)
Bruner likes to talk about the teacher's role as helping students approach what they are doing with a mind to "discovering something rather than 'learning about' it." The benefit of that, he continues, is that "the child is now in a position to experience success and failure not as reward and punishment, but as information." This is a critical distinction. Feedback indicating that a student "is on a right track ...[or] the wrong one" is what produces improvement.... But the capacity to see success and failure as feedback is even more important, and that requires teachers (and parents) to stress the task itself, not the performance. (p. 211)

While I was in the process of reading this book, I stumbled onto a biography of myself that I wrote for a psychology class in my Senior year of high school. My 17-year old memory was that as a young child I was deeply motivated to gain my teachers’ attention and approval. This was no doubt true; my parents were in the midst of divorcing and I tried to "self-medicate" with my school performance. Reflecting on this, I realize how much I came to view positive attention as a reward (rather than something innately due me, unconditionally). I had it rather easy because I was a quick learner and I was quiet, and I had a decent school system. But, by middle school I had swallowed the belief that my value was conditional, based on my performance. (It was confusing to me, though, because I never felt I was exerting myself. It was like being told I did a great job at having blue eyes. My performance didn’t even seem like something I controlled!) My screaming need, and therefore what I pursued, was the social reward – either pleasing the teacher or beating out other kids to feel “better” than they. Learning? Challenging myself? Oh, I kept getting good grades for the most part, but it all became like a game. I didn’t really care whether I learned. And besides, if I made good enough grades, who cared? What else mattered but that symbolic reward?

A few mental snapshots from my experiences:

In my 7th grade math class we did self-paced independent work. My goal was finishing as many books as I could to be as far ahead of others as I could. One particular book taught a concept I was not interested in (because it was difficult for me). I took the pretest, slammed through the book, and took the posttest a day or two later. I had scored better on the pretest! But I had gotten the nasty thing out of my hair and was on to something different, something easy. I had no desire to master math or learn. On the evaluation I took home for my mom’s signature, the teacher wrote “I think she is trying to race through the books.” And that was that.

One quarter, my 8th grade history teacher gave me a C with the comment that, for me, I was doing only average work. He was right; he saw through my “going through the motions” approach to school. Yet, it scandalized me, because I was not a “C” person, and he had made no other comment, no other interaction with me to elaborate on his observation or on his view of what I should do differently. His effort probably could have made an impact, had I been able to take the risk to pursue him on it. That was not how I had learned to relate to teachers, unfortunately.

These and many other experiences show me that rewards like grades really can draw away from the actual goal of education. They refocus the attention of both student and teacher onto whether the goody has been obtained, not on the needs or potential of the child. And they blunt the horizon of learning, declaring an artificial “finish line” or point of supposed satisfaction that perhaps is completely unsuited to that particular child.

Another extremely interesting facet of Kohn’s book was the discussion of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. I had not realized this is controversial for behavioralists, who, strictly speaking, do not posit the existence of an I within the biological matter called a person which can have motivation – for them, there is nothing within that can motivate! Hence the necessity to rely on external reinforcements to teach desired behaviors. I cannot be more diametrically opposed to this presupposition!

It was very powerful for me to reflect on my own experience of the areas and degrees of my intrinsic or extrinsic motivations throughout my education. I discovered writing – story writing, letter writing, research writing, you name it – when I was very young, and I found I had much to gain from exercising my abilities. By age 10 I wrote something nearly every day. Mostly this was personal, not school, work. This work later helped me connect with a desire to learn, at least in subjects where words came into play.

I also remember a 6th grade scene that might count as “the” thing I learned that year. My class was discussing our city’s water, and the teacher asked if anyone knew the source of our drinking water. Students answered with one or the other of our city’s lakes. I raised my hand to offer that I knew our water came from a well.

I don’t know if the teacher had intended this beforehand, but the discussion quickly became a psychological experiment. When I answered “a well,” the teacher made a scoffing, dismissive sound, and went on to go up and down the rows asking every student for his or her answer. Every single kid in the class said either Lake Mendota or Lake Monona. Then the teacher came back to me, telling me I was the only one who had said something different. Didn’t I want to change my answer? I said no, because I knew I was right. The teacher then revealed to all that my answer was indeed correct.

Perhaps this is more a factor of my personality than my motivation, but has always been vitally important to me to stick with what I know to be true, regardless of what other people say or think. That experience was a huge concrete illustration to me that letting one’s internality be overridden by momentary external pressure is a losing gamble.

In college I remember hearing fellow students say things to our professors like “I’m not sure what you want for this paper.” It used to make me absolutely cringe. For them, the project was for the professor. For me, writing a paper was like making a new boyfriend. (And it was about the closest thing to it I ever had!) It was about discovering some work, or some author, or some topic, opening myself to it, interacting with it, perhaps raking it over the coals, then telling the story of our relationship as I had come to understand it in this way that I had found to share my heart with “the world.” And, ok, so it was normally only the professor who read it, but it was the work of my heart and soul, meant for “the world” in some sense! And this other student just wanted to know how to spew out what the teacher “wanted.” Fortunately I had professors who objected to the very question, as I did! This is your education, honey! What do you want to say through your effort?

The serious problem I had was that my intrinsic motivation was powerful in only selected areas. I was scared stiff in other areas of my life – like as soon as I stepped out of a classroom -- where risking, creativity, and relating to other humans was necessary. I had learned to be a good student, but I had not learned to step out and try something that I wasn’t naturally good at, for fear of failure. In this regard, despite my grades, I have to say my education did not completely succeed in giving me what is most important -- the ability to meet challenges with confidence. However, now I see education as a lifelong process, so I'm still working on it!

One of my goals in my children’s education is to preserve their intrinsic motivation, their willingness to try things, and to learn from both failure and success -- to grow from everything. Kohn’s book reminds me that any true growth requires great patience and a lot of time. Perhaps we reward or bribe each other toward goals because we lack patience for each other and trust in the innate human desire to know and grow. And, perhaps, we do it because we sometimes refuse to accept how we are limited.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Antoinette Juliano, Requiescat in Pace

A friend of our family passed away this morning. Antoinette was a member of our parish. I met her about two years ago through a parish program to match visitors with those elderly in need visitors. I admit I was a bit nervous about it, seeing as how I'm not one to easily be chatty with strangers. But I needn't have worried; Antoinette did enough chatting for both of us. She was a relatively healthy 90 year old when we met, who needed the social environment of the nursing home. Over the last two years I (and sometimes my children) visited with her each week (including the time the above photo was taken, on Halloween of 2006).

Antoinette gave me so much. She immediately put me at ease about my children's active, or sometimes impatient behavior. She constantly demonstrated gratitude and a desire to offer something to make others happy, even when in her last months she was in a lot of pain after a fall and some broken bones. She had compassion for and did what she could to comfort other residents. Oh, she got ticked at people when she felt disrespected by them, but I never saw her act with the slightest bit of nastiness in return.

I will miss her, but she told me often in the last several months that death was what she longed for. She couldn't understand why God was putting her off.

The last time we talked, I felt compelled to tell her every happy detail of my life that I could come up with; how we would celebrate my son's birthday, how my husband brought me flowers on the anniversary of our engagement and how there had been fireworks that night ten years ago in Pittsburgh, little details of our lunch with my in-laws. She smiled at this connection with a world she had left behind, confined as she was to her bed or her wheelchair. She told me repeatedly, "I love you."

May her soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe

I would be so completely remiss if I did not note on this blog the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe today. He was truly one of the first saints to make a deep impression on me, thanks to a homily preached by Fr. John on this day many years ago and a foundational and profound experience of prayer. He spoke of how St. Maximilian handed over his life throughout his life (not only in his martyr's death). At the time, I was deeply anxious and troubled over whether I would ever marry, or if I would always feel alone and unloved, and unworthy of love. I was there in Gesu Church, in the basement chapel where daily Masses always happened. It was a Saturday. The words of Fr. John's homily, describing the amazing life of St. Maximilian, echoed in my heart as we entered the Eucharistic prayer. At the moment of the consecration, as I was beholding Jesus handing over His body and blood unto death for me, upstairs in the upper church, the "Hallelujah" of a wedding Mass rang out with resounding joy. I was so struck by the unity of these two moments: the death, the agony, the handing over; the resurrection, the joy, the marriage. It was branded into my heart that we never, ever experience the cross without the resurrection being there, at least in promise form. There are not two Jesus's. We love and embrace the suffering Servant, and in so doing, we embrace the glorious Resurrected One. This truth carried me through some rough years that laid ahead of me.

While I lived in Japan I had the opportunity to visit the monastery in Kyushu where St. Max lived for some years. Perhaps later I will add in a photo. It was during that time of my visit that I began to get some idea of the love Mary has for her children.

In 1997 I first made the consecration to Jesus through Mary and joined the Militia Immaculata.

St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe, pray for us!

Concretely (or is it Abstractly?) Happy

Just after reading Kabloona's comment on my kafuffle post this morning (after a wonderful School of Community experience) I was off to Mass. The homilist was one of the newer faces on campus, so I cannot credit the correct Father by name, but it was a case where his words made me so happy (after I thought about them at least) that I wanted to jump up and down and go Wheeeee!

He was talking about Peter's question to Jesus about just how many times we are expected to forgive another, and Jesus' response with a parable. With minor paraphrasical liberties, his words were basically this:

You will remember that Jesus, in yesterday's gospel, laid out this paradigm of what we are to do when someone sins against us. We are to go to them, then take others if the first approach does not bring reunification, etc. Now, Peter, being a concrete thinker, asks Jesus a concrete question. "Just how often are we supposed to do this?" Questions that can be answered with numbers appeal to some people, because then you know exactly what to do to replicate the answer. (Wait! Here comes my happy part.) But Jesus directed Peter away from this desire for a mere concrete answer towards a more abstract answer about forgiveness by telling this parable.

Yes!!! See, concrete answers are for questions like "what is 2+2?". Abstract answers are to questions like "what is love, and how do you do it?" Or at least that's how my brain hears it. And I know what two plus two equals, but to be honest I'm not all that interested. But my life hinges on the question of what love is and how I do it. Oh, I know that I must attend to what is real, meaning what is physical in this world. But what is conceptual is often more real to me than things I can touch, and scads more meaningful.

I am really very indebted to the Myers-Briggs people. The first time I took that assessment I was amazed/relieved to know that my general personality type (introverted intuitive) is the least frequent in our culture (about 10%). Just recently I found my husband's test results from a class he once took, and it noted that if a certain number registers very low, then it could flip either way. This could explain why my previously extremely low "feeling" numbers have changed to "thinking" numbers in recent years. And that particular configuration (INTP) puts me in company with about 1% of females of the world.

And that's ok. Sometimes I just need to really puzzle about how one does life -- especially when I consider what other people tell me about how they do life.

But to go back where I started, I am feeling so happy over this funny little question now.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Baby Factory Open for Business

This development is astonishing. The people of Poland stand in need of our prayers.

The Abstraction Kafuffle

Do you ever go through a thing where you start questioning basic operating principles in your life? I have been in one such kafuffle of late. I've been wrestling with how Communion and Liberation uses the word "abstraction," which I have come to understand to be somewhat like an idol; a lifeless thing that one props up and attempts to derive life's meaning from. This could even be something that seems very holy, like "being a Christian". It's something that I control, something of which I am the creator, the animator. Something that is quite apart from what the living God does, has done, is doing, in our midst.

But being a person much attracted to ruminating, I have always cozied up to the word abstraction as a wonderful expression of... me.

So this thing was all set up, ready for me to make a kafuffle of it. (That word is actually in the dictionary, by the way.)

But one thing that I have taken from this thought-tangle is a heightened awareness of God as a Person. A Reality. Most Definitely Not an Abstraction. And myself as someone created with no other basic reason but being in relationship with this Reality. It is amazing all over again. I remember when I first realized or experienced that God was this, and not a figure like Abraham Lincoln, who was real, and alive in a way, but related to me only by certain ideas or circumstances, like being an American. I was 19.

So today I went to Mass. I was intent as I sat down to hear the readings. My heart was open to this real God for whom I am made. And this is what I heard

The Lord GOD said to me:
As for you, son of man, obey me when I speak to you:
be not rebellious like this house of rebellion,
but open your mouth and eat what I shall give you.

It was then I saw a hand stretched out to me,
in which was a written scroll which he unrolled before me.
It was covered with writing front and back,
and written on it was:
Lamentation and wailing and woe!

He said to me: Son of man, eat what is before you;
eat this scroll, then go, speak to the house of Israel.
So I opened my mouth and he gave me the scroll to eat.
Son of man, he then said to me,
feed your belly and fill your stomach
with this scroll I am giving you.
I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth.
He said: Son of man, go now to the house of Israel,
and speak my words to them. (Ez. 2:8--3:4)

Now, if you had the experience of being me, you would immediately pick up on a theme that has recurred throughout my life, from childhood. In fact, I even blogged about this passage last year. I have such a history of fretting over my spoken words and my mouth. And God has such a history of commanding me to be who I am, who He has made me. And the only way I know who I am? "Obey me when I speak to you." Words do not do justice here, but this command to obedience strikes me as invitation to sheer liberty. It is God's command for me to live free from all the garbage that drags me away. And yet it is stern. God is far more serious about my beatitude, my happiness, than I am. (Thank you, my Lord.)

That scroll that God bids me eat changes me, and forms me in the way God desires. It used to scandalize me that the Catholic Church embraced different religious orders. I viewed the world as a contest between right and wrong, so I didn't see how you could accept that Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits, et al, could all be "right" if they were different. I didn't get the idea that God likes variety, and that good minds and lives can actually differ without one being right and the other being wrong, or truth being relative. God would not command us to take courage if we had no need for it. But if we adhere to the Lord we risk (gasp) becoming different from others, and standing out. So be it, if that is our call! So be it, Amen, Hallelujah.

The gospel also reminds me to respect the heart and life of each unique child, and reminds me that children simply are who they are; they don't ponder who they are, or restrain who they are (unless/until they learn to). They just are. I can get lost, but God is constantly about calling my name. My name -- which He knows, and gives.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

What's so insightful about that?

I've been thinking more about the post I linked to here last night. Here's the link again. It was already long after I should have been sleeping, so I did not take the time to comment at length.

So, what's so insightful?

I don't know that I'd use the descriptors of school that Kevin used, particularly the defecation reference. I have a healthy respect for defecation, so I'm uncomfortable with using it with negative connotations. And I just don't think I'd go so far as to use the specific term he used to describe school. I prefer to think in terms of what I'm 'fer instead of what I'm agin'.

I don't find it particularly significant that he was able to get decent grades when he had never had formal instruction. I don't hold his occasional atrocious grammar against him. (It was interesting that one commenter pointed out that his grammar was great, except for when he talked about how his teachers admired his writing skill.)

What I found insightful was his perception of his fellow students, and this in two points. First, he found them paralyzed by thoughts of what they were unable to do. "Can't" defined them, he said. Second, he found that the love for learning had been sucked right out of most everyone. High school freshmen were no longer eager to gain new knowledge. This, perhaps, does not strike most readers as news. The real news was that this kid found that to be highly abnormal, and irritating.

This matter of intrinsic motivation in education is one that has been on my mind for the last several weeks as I've been reading Alfie Kohn's Punished by Rewards. I've been thinking of my own experiences in school, and my attraction to a liberal arts education. I attended Wisconsin Lutheran College which was shifting from a two-year to a four-year institution when I began there. Perhaps in part because it was definitely not a resume-building institution at the time, much emphasis was given to education as intrinsically valuable for the full formation of a human being, rather than being a mere stepping stone to career and money. This resonated with me strongly, and in many ways I felt that it was only in college where I began to own my education. I only wish this paradigm had dawned on me many years before.

Kohn in Punished By Rewards lays out a logical case for what causes the phenomenon that Kevin Snavley observed in his high school experiment. That will have to come in a later post. I'm on my third successive library check-out of the book, and I'm determined to finish it before I comment on the whole book.

The Unschooler Attends High School

Just had to share this very insightful post. The author is a 14 year old boy who had been unschooled all his life, and then chose to attend high school for a year to find for himself what it would be like. His mom later clarifies that he had quickly thrown some thoughts on a blog, thinking that it was mainly for her he was writing! Little did he know, considering the number of comments that have accumulated...

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Sr. Anne Marie on Comm - Unity

I read this provoking article this afternoon, written by Sr. Anne Marie Gill, TOR, of the TOR sisters based in Toronto, Ohio. You can visit their website here.

The Cost of Living Comm-"unity"

If you were to ask each sister what the greatest grace of religious life is for her, you would probably get an almost unanimous answer -- living in community. It is such a you to share life with other women who have willingly given up everything to live for Jesus. We share each other's joys, and we help carry each other's burdens. It really is a gift to life in community.

However, if you were to ask each sister what is her greatest challenge in religious life, you again would get a unanimous response -- living in community. It is not easy living in the same house with sometimes up to 20 other women. We all come from different backgrounds and family experiences. St. John of the Cross likened living in community as the "sand paper treatment." Rubbing against one another removes all the rough, unconverted spots.

It takes work to live in true communion with one another. As a sisterhood, we can never take for granted the gift that God has given us in each other. This is true for any type of community - whether it be a family, small faith sharing group, or a parish. Living in community costs! Since this issue of our newsletter celebrates our life as sisters, I am offering some reflections on ways we can grow in living unity and communion.

One of the essential things that we do as a Community to safeguard our communion is we are committed to being reconciled with each other. This doesn't mean we always agree or like what another does, but it does mean that at the end of the day if we have sinned against another, we take action to reconcile. This takes the willingness to humbly recognize our faults and to ask another to forgive us. I remember hearing a very challenging talk a few years ago where, using the Gospel of Matthew, the speaker made clear that the responsibility of seeking forgiveness and unity lies with each of us. In Matthew 18:15 it says that if someone sins against us we are to go to him/her to seek reconciliation. In Matthew 5:23 it states that if we have sinned against someone, we are to go to him/her and seek reconciliation. In both cases, the burden of reconciliation is on us! If we sin, we go! If someone sins against us, we go! The direction is clear; the reality is tough to live.

Something I have learned over the years is that living in communion means a lot more than just not openly sinning against another. The communion that Jesus asks for is a union of hearts, a willingness to embrace the other as brother or sister in Christ. This concept became tangible to me while reading a book by Cardinal Francis Xavier Van Thuan who spent 13 years in a Vietnam prison because of his belief in Christ and the Church. Even amidst imprisonment and mistreatment he wrote the following about living in communion:

Communion is a battle of every instant
Even one moment of neglect can shatter it; a trifle is enough;
A single thought against charity, an obstinately held judgment,
A mistaken premise, ambition or personal interest,
An action done for self and not for the Lord . . .

The communion that God has called us to share with our brothers and sisters begins with the attitude of the heart. It requires that we guard our heart from negative thoughts or judgments that are the beginning of a break in unity. Pope John Paul II spoke of the spirituality of communion in his encyclical letter Novo Millennio Inuente: "A spirituality of communion indicates above all the heart's contemplation of the mystery of the Trinity dwelling in us, and whose light we must also be able to see shining on the face of the brothers and sisters around us..." The spirituality of communion means that we are aware of God dwelling within us and within all our brothers and sisters. A break in communion is a break with the living Body of Christ.

I remember a few years ago spending a week at Gethsemane Abbey. One of the brothers I met shared with me his secret to living religious life faithfully for so many years: it was only he and Jesus living in the monastery. I had heard of this concept years ago, but my understanding of the saying was one of exclusivity, that it was me and Jesus, amidst all the others. The brother shared with me that the meaning goes much, much deeper; that if I look with faith and with a heart open to love, I will find Jesus present in each one of my sisters. This is at the heart of all true communion. Union with one another is ultimately union with Christ, which is what our hearts are created for!

One final thought... the foundation of the communion that I speak of is a deep trust and acknowledgement that every moment of every day is a meeting with God, who loves us. Also, everything that we experience is linked to the love of God, and to his desire for our good. With this as the foundation, the daily challenges of community living, the irritations and limitations we are bound to experience in others and in ourselves, do not disturb the true communion to which we are called. Every moment is an expression of God's tender, unconditional love for us. Everything rests in God's loving providence. As St. Therese said (actually many of the great saints have said): "All is grace!"

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Priests

Have you heard about this new singing trio called The Priests? They actually are priests, too -- parish priests of the Diocese of Down and Connor in Ireland. They signed a recording deal with Sony in April and now, apparently, they are all the buzz in the media. These men have an extraordinary vocation, I think. I can see their music reawakening souls to Beauty and bringing healing to those suffering great disaffection when looking upon the image of a Roman collar.

I love, love to hear priests sing well. Check it out!

Saturday, August 02, 2008


When I lived in Japan, I discovered that laughing at language errors was incredibly effective stress relief. I know that my own courage to knowingly make mistakes with foreign language is minuscule, so reading howlers helped me laugh until my sides hurt, and not fear mistakes quite so much. (I figured I might just be supplying excellent entertainment to others who were too polite to laugh in my face.)

Here are some great Chinglish examples.

Friday, August 01, 2008

"Walk bravely into holiness."

On the first of every month, Our Lord gives Anne a new message about His
call to service.

August 1, 2008


My dear ones, I am with you in your struggles. How can I help you to understand that your struggles are necessary to your holiness? Perhaps you should simply trust Me and view your struggles as evidence that I continue working to perfect your soul. If there were no struggle, My little apostles, there could be no possibility of advancement. This is a time to make great gains in holiness but gains are only possible with effort. I am making every effort toward you. Are you making efforts to move closer to Me? Ask yourself today and each day, 'Where is God asking me to be holier today?' Perhaps it is charity, perhaps patience, possibly trust, maybe you should practice concentrating on your holiness and refrain from examining the work needed in other souls. Oh, My dear apostles, if you could only see how desirable holiness is to heaven. If you could only see how beautiful you are when you are looking up to heaven with an honest desire to become holier. When you become distracted, My heart sighs. And yet I am patient with you. I know that My little ones want to serve Me. I know that My little ones struggle to absorb the truth about holiness. And that is why I am patient. I am patient because you are trying. Continue trying, dear apostles. Walk bravely into holiness. Be fearless in examining your condition. If you do so, I will surround you with love so that you do not become discouraged but emboldened. You will become emboldened to strive for greater and greater heights of holiness and greater and greater heights of humility. How heaven will rejoice as the King's apostles relinquish their ties to the world and attach themselves more fully to heaven's work. Heaven's work will always involve two goals, one, the holiness of the apostle, two the coming of the Kingdom. My apostles must concern themselves primarily with their holiness and then I, the King, can best see to the coming of God's Kingdom. Be at peace. Rejoice. I am with you and My plan is advancing.

10 Years of Yes

There were, literally and figuratively, fireworks going off ten years ago tonight in Pittsburgh. That's where and when my husband asked me to marry him: August 1, 1998.

Spam (Eggs, Bacon and Spam)?

Blogger has shut down my blog for right now (as of Thursday evening) because their, um, non-human system has identified Naru Hodo as spam. You know, one of those non-humanly generated list of fancy words, with ads on it. Isn't that ironic?

Well, if you are reading this, the human has come by, noticed that I'm also a human, and all is well again.

This could really be a blow to my writer's ego!